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Nationalism, Statism and Propaganda

This month’s major political conventions will be historic. Nationalist Donald Trump, presumptive nominee of the philosophically bankrupt Republican Party, and welfare-statist Hillary Clinton, presumptive nominee of the New Left-dominated Democratic Party, are the most untrusted and, incidentally, unpopular presidential candidates in modern history. Clinton, exonerated this week by the Obama administration under a cloud of suspicion after the attorney general met with her spouse, the ex-president Bill Clinton, will be the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party. Trump, generating controversy as always and this time by re-posting a Star of David superimposed on a pile of money via social media, will be the first non-Republican and explicit anti-capitalist nominated by the party which once advocated some degree of capitalism and individual rights. Both will be nominated in American states which were once great industrial centers; Clinton in America’s first capital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Trump in Cleveland, Ohio.

Look for what today’s digital public relations, marketing and social media types call optics at the GOP (July 18-21) and Democratic (July 25-28) conventions. Halting, hair-splitting, cackling Clinton may try to come off as softer, less harsh and hostile and more easygoing as a leader; the safer choice. Spewing, ear-splitting, rambling Trump may try to pass himself off as essentially charismatic and strong, less harsh and hostile and more decisive as a leader; the stronger choice. He will try to be a man of the people, an unapologetic village crier and throwback to pre-Obama days, undoing Obama’s legacy by throwing up tougher, state-sponsored fixes at the strongman’s sole discretion. She will try to appear as a woman of the people, a servant carrying on the Obama presidency’s New Left agenda while silently signalling that the age of statism and egalitarianism—policy dictates defining one’s identity by race, sex or culture—has just begun. The next few weeks will be heavy on optics for two power-lusting frauds in American politics.

Look closer for signs of propaganda, however. Whether at the statist’s or the nationalist’s convention, despite whatever riots, anarchy and attack may be carried out, the coming conventions and 2016 will be filled with symbolism and signs of what’s to come. Trump is a master of this—Clinton is not—as he demonstrates by tagging media personalities, streams and channels to generate greater exposure and attract new followers (read my post on The Circus Cycle). Though Trump polls as a loser, polls have been wrong for years, from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s upset loss to this summer’s Brexit victory. I suspect the Trump voter conceals his planned vote from others. Watch for propaganda to foreshadow (unless Libertarian Gary Johnson is elected president) the new presidency.

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Propaganda, as shown at a recent exhibit at the Richard Riordan Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles, has the power to push a civilized nation to dictatorship. Through visual manipulation, such as digital memes, cartoons and posters, especially in today’s increasingly anti-conceptual, perceptual-level culture, the public can more easily be persuaded of certain assertions. National Socialist propaganda, including promotions for Hitler’s Mein Kampf (which translates as My Struggle), was thoroughly premeditated. Read Leonard Peikoff’s The Cause of Hitler’s Germany for a fundamental explanation of Nazi Germany.

As displayed in “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda”, which runs at the Downtown LA library through August 21 (read about the traveling exhibition here), the Fuhrer (“leader”) and his top Nazis clearly grasped the importance of graphic arts in disseminating their philosophy of duty to the state and submission of the individual to serving others, i.e., altruism, in the name of the god-state-people-race. In certain cases, graphics and images glorify the upshot of National Socialism in practice: mass death and total government control of the individual’s life.

The exhibitionproduced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, shows how “the Nazis used propaganda to win broad voter support in Germany, implement radical programs, and justify war and mass murder”. The exhibit continues in Texas and Louisiana (see the schedule here).

Nazi Propaganda Poster LAPLNazi propaganda posters, movies, art and designs also illustrate attacks on Jews, capitalism and profit. There are other lessons, too. Note the cult of personality employed to foster worship of the charismatic leader. Observe similarities to recent U.S. campaign themes, such as Obama’s “hope and change” paraphernalia, the controversial “Ready for Hillary” capital H with its arrow, and, of course, Trump’s chronic emphasis on himself as the charismatic leader for nationalism, bellowing against others—illegal immigrants, Moslems, Apple, businesses that trade with China—as causing America’s downfall. Clinton, and especially Sanders, target others, too—businesses, Apple, traders on Wall Street, the wealthy—and both sides explicitly target the individual for persecution.

What is so alarming about the 2016 presidential election, and what makes National Socialist propaganda particularly relevant, is the erosion of freedom of speech in America. Obama’s administration attacks free speech, from censoring news to censoring movies and intimidating Americans who would exercise free speech (read Obama Vs. Free Speech). Clinton, who once proposed outlawing divorce for couples with children, has been a part of Obama’s assault on the First Amendment and she sought to evade public and press scrutiny during her entire four years as secretary of state while denouncing an American film as the cause of an Islamic terrorist act of war on the United States. Trump, who cuts off microphones at press conferences, proposes eliminating free speech by weakening libel law and jokes, then says he means it seriously, about having journalists targeted for state-sponsored death.

NaziFlowChartThese are explicit policy ideas, plans and actions. Insidious state sponsorship of media and the arts, like something emanating from the Nazi flow chart pictured here, includes quasi government control of the Oscars (Michelle Obama Ruins the Oscars) and arts and technology conferences (SXSW).

As the free press, too, diminishes with the spread of quasi-government control of industry, subsidizing state-favored cable TV monopolies like Time Warner and Comcast which own and operate major media (CNN, HBO, Warner Bros. Pictures, MSNBC, NBC, Universal Studios), coupled with the dumbing down of American education and culture, it becomes both easier and less apparent for the state to impose controls, cronyism and influence, i.e., blacklists. Only this summer did Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, change its name to the term “tronc” (without the quotation marks but with the bad punctuation), an amalgamation of “Tribune online content” in what appears to be a bid to seem modern, generic and anti-conceptual.

Convergence of today’s aggregated, dumbed down media with secretive, oppressive censorship cannot be far behind.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whom the world lost last week, lived his entire life warning of the danger of staying silent while ominous government insidiously gains the power to destroy life. As the summer of ’16—with Clinton, tronc and Trump—goes down shoveling propaganda in conventions and toward a darker history, this is the moment to stay tuned, call statist and nationalist propaganda what it is and speak out.

Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

legend-tarzan-2016-posterThough I’ve never read the Tarzan stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, upon which the new Warner Bros. movie is loosely based, I know from the character’s vast cultural history that they explore civilized and primitive man and nature through great, exotic adventures.

So does The Legend of Tarzan, if not always successfully and with a few cringe-worthy lines and a leap of faith into the third act. This is an underdeveloped epic set in 1890 and much of it is good. It’s not a great picture, but it has moments of wonder, historical basis and loads of exciting entertainment. Powered in the lead by the silent, icy stare of the title character, well played by Stockholm native Alexander Skarsgård (The Giver), whose Tarzan insists on going by his proper name John Clayton, the newest version takes the British aristocrat as a man of honor, integrity and the best of Western civilization.

His heroism is rooted in his incredible past as an extraordinary lord of the jungle.

Through a backstory, told in misty flashbacks courtesy of his brave wife Jane (Margot Robbie), the whole remarkable story of this man of extremes comes together, leading the audience into a new African adventure involving the Congo, Belgium’s King Leopold, imperialism, diamonds, native tribes, slavery, leopards, elephants, lions, hippos and, of course, the family of apes that raised the ape man. All of this is somehow relatively convincing and exciting for most of the movie, despite unfortunate and generic effects such as slow-motion fight scenes and incoherent action shots. The natives and the man of the jungle look too ripped, frankly, but with logical storytelling and good performances from the leads, and by Christoph Waltz (The Green Hornet) as a villain as rotten as Tim Roth in Rob Roy, wrapping his fist in a rosary, The Legend of Tarzan entices and thrills.

With Samuel L. Jackson as a black Union Army veteran from the Civil War (George Washington Williams, based upon the man who knew Frederick Douglass in real life and wrote The History of the Negro Race in America 1619–1880) accompanying Clayton on his return to Africa, and Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Baggage Claim), a railroad siege, a deep jungle showdown and a romantic kiss on a tree branch, this Tarzan builds tension as it layers the plot with interesting ideas. Among them are obtaining wealth through enslavement, life as an ongoing lesson and, as its heartbeat, serenity through harmony with nature and man. This last might have delivered an inspired meaning for the movie, which beautifully depicts an African tribe’s blissful reunion with the blue-eyed husband and wife in the village fed by strength, kindness and love.

The Legend of Tarzan, even when images are obviously manipulated, is stunning to behold thanks to cinematographer Henry Braham (Flyboys), costume, production and art design and director David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter pictures, does a fine job in the first two acts. For his part, Skarsgård as John Clayton/Tarzan brings to the role an arrogance, depth and solitude other Tarzan movies lack and his ease at being in Africa with wild animals and tribes is more pronounced having been properly introduced to the man he has become since returning to London.

“Tarzan learned to conquer,” the audience is told of his relationship with the dangerous and regal beauty and beasts of the Dark Continent, and, for a long, welcome stretch, one is lost and held by this unique tale of an individualistic aristocrat with scars and muscles and the mind to match who walks among natives with a sense of decency—which goes for his Jane, too—as a plot to trap him thickens. By the climax, with too much to resolve, Yates ties threads together too quickly and doesn’t achieve the secular humanist grandeur this Tarzan movie might have earned. Yet The Legend of Tarzan engages the moviegoer once again in the imaginative world of a boy raised by a wild animal capable of affection, the heroic lord he becomes, the woman just as bold and brave whom he finds, and his ferocious fight for peace and freedom, not for power-lust and conquest as an end in itself. In other words, Tarzan of the West and, happily, of the world.

Movie Review: The Shallows

shallows-poster-lgExpecting another mediocre thriller about scary monsters in the deep, I was surprised by The Shallows, Sony’s summer shark movie with Blake Lively (Green Lantern). Horror is not my genre, as readers know. I probably haven’t seen a shark movie since whatever lame sequel to Jaws was on TV. Something about The Shallows caught my attention.

It might have been nostalgia for Jaws, which, after seeing gruesome daily news feeds, is less shocking in an age of nonstop Islamic terrorism, a toddler dragged by a reptile into a lagoon and endlessly brutal tales of housebound sex slaves. It turns out that The Shallows is gruesome, too, though at least its sense of purpose keeps the shark bite marks, gashes and wounds on point. The ads made it strike me as a movie that might have paid homage to the nameless woman plunged into the water at the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.

From the sound of lapping water to the sound of thrashing in the water, The Shallows, contrary to its horror-oriented title, is single-minded about depicting the lone woman (Lively) against the shark. Barcelona native Jaume Collet-Serra directs the movie with a range of diversionary tactics—loud electronic dance music, imagery to project use of modern technology, the looming male as potential predator—and his visual style is scattered and inconsistent, sometimes to incoherence. Despite this, The Shallows is an engaging horror thriller. Gaps between action heighten the tension. For her part, San Fernando Valley native Lively carries the lead, instilling instant appeal with her easygoing Southern Californian manner. As a local drives her to her exotic destination, Lively’s surfer/medical school student Nancy flips through her phone’s photo gallery while riding to a remote Mexican beach where her late mother took her as a child. She sets her terms, invokes memories and chooses direction.

Clearly, she has an active mind. When the Spanish-speaking driver, named Carlos, translates her use of the term ‘reliable’ to describe herself—a best friend has a hangover back at the hotel, leaving Nancy to venture to the beach alone—as “bossy”, she laughs it off, then thinks twice and accepts ‘bossy’ as a badge. This is a woman at ease among men and at ease with herself. Nancy is also at ease in the water, where she encounters two local surfers, letting them know that she prefers to be alone. Pulling on gear over her tattooed, toned body, she might be bossy but she exudes self-confidence. Nancy knows how to put others at ease, too.

With waves forming and cresting in slow motion, The Shallows begins its dance with death. Rather than use a soundtrack or the fin, The Shallows lets the audience wonder where the shark will strike. Its style is disjointed, with quick cuts and little time to linger or build tension. I leave it to shark experts to judge the film’s realism for how a shark responds and pursues prey. A medical student’s insistence on going it alone on a secluded beach in a Third World country is hard to take. So is her inability to speak Spanish—any Spanish, though she manages a gracias. Nancy’s strained conversation with her father, who’s been handed the phone by Nancy’s sister without Nancy’s consent, leads the sharp American from Galveston, Texas, to make a serious mistake.

Having returned to shore as the two men depart the beach, still angry with her dad, Nancy goes out again. She thinks she’s alone. Porpoising suggests otherwise but still she swims and surfs. I’ll leave it that things turn crimson after she spots a dying whale. The contest between man and nature—in this case, woman versus shark-infested waters—is on.

Nancy, however, goes by reason; she calculates time and distance, she engages in positive self-talk, she nurses a wounded bird, and she thinks with one goal in mind: to escape the shark, which won’t be a cinch (you might want to skip seeing The Shallows if you’re queasy about self-surgery). As Nancy’s battle against what appears to be a great white shark reaches horror movie cliche proportions, and it does, I started to wonder if this display would end up as grisly as watching James Franco cut off his limb in 127 Hours. Thankfully, it is not as grim, though The Shallows, for its stunning photography, is quite bloody.

“I can make that”, Nancy tells herself at one point, inspired by her late mother’s example. After striking an Olympian’s pose on a jagged rock, whether she can and will propels this cautionary teaser-thriller about the surfer who surfs alone to become the doctor who heals herself.

Zootopia on Home Video

If you want to know why Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Zootopia (read my review here) delighted audiences and broke worldwide box office records, earning over $900 million, watch it on home video and see at least some of the bonus material. The Blu-ray edition shows how much thought, artistry and hard work were expended to make one of the most enjoyable movies this year.

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Available today on Digital HD, Blu-ray, Disney Movies Anywhere, DVD and on demand, Zootopia in these various incarnations includes an alternate opening, deleted characters and scenes and some clever, interesting tidbits. On the Blu-ray disc I reviewed, the most informative parts are what Disney calls a series of 10-minute “roundtables” (they’re not really) introduced by Ginnifer Goodwin, who voiced the lead character Judy Hopp. One of the interesting disclosures here is that her character wasn’t always the lead.

In fact, the creators originally had Jason Bateman’s fox character as the lead in a whole other plot involving a jaded, dystopian world with electronic animal collars. Well into production, studio screenings—this is one of those movies in which the movie studio apparently improved the final cut—apparently demonstrated that the cynicism drained the motion picture and Goodwin’s rabbit wannabe cop took the lead. The differences are discussed, explored and shown in several spots on the extras, including a humorous deleted alternate scene in the elephant-run ice cream shop.

Another piece shows hidden Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, icons and designs. Frozen pops up in the ice cream shop, too, though these really amount to Disney plugs. Still, the extras are not as thin and wispy as they usually are and behind the scenes features are more relaxed, less formal and more open to scrutiny, too. The creators reveal a consistency error in the train scene that runs through Tundratown, for instance.

Viewers learn about complexities in creating an all-animal world, including making characters’ fur and clothing, the logic and impetus for Tundratown, Sahara Square and the Rainforest District and old-fashioned field research conducted—and, I suspect, doubling for water drinking scenes in The Jungle Book, too—in Africa. It’s there that filmmakers traveled to gain knowledge for Zootopia‘s variety of distinctive animal characters. Of course, they also visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida, but the African savanna trip proved useful for developing Zootopia looks, behaviors and plot points.

A piece on the score features Academy Award®-winning composer Michael Giacchino demonstrating how percussionists added to the movie. Directors Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, The Simpsons) introduce bits with dry humor. One clip involves Bateman’s fox character, Nick, pitching his start-up idea to Zootopia’s bankers for funding his money-making vision of an amusement park made exclusively for predators. Maybe a sequel if there is one (who am I kidding?) will explore Nick’s entrepreneurial spirit and mark a Disney Animation Studios return to portraying capitalism as a positive for the first time since The Princess and the Frog.

Shakira’s can-do-themed single “Try Everything”, which accompanies the end credits, too, is included as a stand-alone pop music video. Unfortunately, Bateman and other cast members, are not. I would have liked to have seen and heard from Idris Elba (Thor, BBC’s Luther) on voicing Chief Bogo, Jenny Slate’s thoughts on her character, Bellwether, Nate Torrence doing Clawhauser, Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake as the parents, J.K. Simmons (Oscar® winner for Whiplash) as Mayor Lionheart and Octavia Spencer (Black or White, Oscar® winner for The Help) as Mrs. Otterton. I would have liked to hear from the story writers, too, on the plot twist, which is part of what makes Zootopia unique, and I do wonder what artists were planning to do with one of the deleted characters, Zootopia’s female pig mayor.

But this one disc package with the 108 minute movie (1080p High Definition/2.39:1, DVD Feature Film = 2.39:1 aspect ratio; subtitles in English, French & Spanish/English SDH, French & Spanish) is a good home video package for a terrific little movie.

The End of The Greatest

Muhammad Ali, who called himself The Greatest, is gone. He was 74 years old.

The Kentucky-born boxer who became a world champion told his story in 1977’s The Greatest co-starring Ali and Ernest Borgnine as his trainer. The film originated “The Greatest Love of All”, the egoistic anthem later made famous by the late Whitney Houston.

Ali’s life was exceptional for his arrogant expression of egoism rooted in superior athletic achievement. I think Ali’s life is likely to be distorted and misunderstood for many complicated reasons, stemming from the times in which he died, this season in which a con man, the fraud who is Donald Trump, claims to be the best and isn’t. Muhammad Ali, whatever else his flaws, claimed to be the best and, in fact, he was.

Ali’s pride in his own ability, not to mention his poetic and often profound musings, commentaries and thoughts, was larger than life.

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He was a poor boy in Louisville, Kentucky, encouraged by a policeman to channel his rage against injustice into training as a boxer, which he did. Soon, Ali, originally named for his father (who was named for an abolitionist) and known then as Cassius Clay, won the Gold Medal at Rome’s 1960 Summer Olympics, appeared in Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight with Anthony Quinn and upset the world’s heavyweight champion. He was then mentored by Malcolm X and joined the Nation of Islam, adopting the new name and seeking his own set of beliefs, a practice he never let go. He kept winning—Ali lost five bouts—and thinking for himself. He sometimes did so by race-baiting, bluster and dubious tactics.

He eventually left the Nation of Islam and mellowed his anti-white views and practiced his religion in private but not without first citing his personal beliefs as a conscientious objector to being drafted by the state into the Vietnam War. Ali was arrested, lost three years of prime competition due to persecution by the United States government and, long before Apple‘s Tim Cook, he fought a Democrat-controlled Department of Justice and later won in the U.S. Supreme Court. The damage to his career, however, had been done.

Yet Ali had influenced the nation, which turned against the Vietnam War, which was never declared and never won, and the military draft, which was abolished by President Nixon. By the time Muhammad Ali triumphed the last time as world champ, having defeated great boxers such as George Foreman and Joe Frazier and Leon Spinks, Ali had inspired Sylvester Stallone to make Rocky. Future athletes, such as Oscar De La Hoya, would invoke selfishness, too. According to Objectivist scholar Harry Binswanger in 100 Voices, Ayn Rand wanted Ali to play a role in an adaptation of her novel Atlas Shrugged.

If you think about it, it’s not difficult to see why. Amid today’s numerously preached and accepted contradictions and confusions, with scoreless sports games and entrenched egalitarianism, Muhammad Ali stood out as one—against the mob, the intellectuals and the state—proudly proclaiming his own excellence. He was arguably often tactless and vulgar, sometimes animated or even cartoonish and occasionally his means and ends were in legitimate dispute. But, in asserting with pride his own superior ability, Muhammad Ali was never wrong. Unlike today’s frauds, he dared his detractors to check the record. Ali earned his poetic and prideful proclamations.

It turns out that Ali, who was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, paid a high price for his fierce and determined, possibly overlong and overzealous, competition. But Muhammad Ali was right. He was, in fact, the greatest. As the song from his movie says, “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”

This is fundamentally true. As the nation once in turmoil during Ali’s blustery, arrogant and triumphant youth goes into a violent new era ominously threatened by a blustery, vacant and bankrupt power-luster who would be president, Ali leaves a magnificent legacy which calls upon Americans to differentiate between the proud man whose pride is based in reality and the loud man whose bullying and boasting spews from raw, unchecked emotions.

Ali once said: “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” Repeatedly, consistently, he did. This is what makes a man great. This—authentic self-esteem realized by human action—is what makes Muhammad Ali a great man.